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Let’s Hang Out With Parker This Weekend

Statham ParkerYou might know Parker as Jason Statham, from the new movie Parker, which I haven’t seen yet. It’s based on Flashfire, the 19th Parker novel. I can tell you from the preview that it looks a bit like the book, but that it looks nothing like Parker. It’s had some sort of protagonist transplant.

Which is fine – you shouldn’t go around making movies out of Parker novels, because Parker’s too dark to appeal to a wide enough audience. Parker does not, for instance, live by any dumbass “code” like the preview for Parker says he does. Apparently this incarnation of Parker never hurts innocent people and never steals from the poor, which might make you like him more, might make it more likely that you’ll buy some movie tickets, but it isn’t Parker.

Parker’s assessment of whether or not he should kill you or steal your money is entirely risk-reward based. He is a sociopath. In the first novel, he breaks into a beauty salon right around closing time, ties up the woman who runs the place, and uses the window to watch some mob guys he’s interested in. Later he goes back to check on her and she’s dead. Parker doesn’t care.

I’m not saying – “Go Parker!” But I am saying, if you’re wanting to pretend you’re a criminal, you can do it Ocean’s Eleven-style, where they’re not actually bad people, just hot, lovable scamps. Or you can be grittily realistic. There’s no correct way, now, settle down – literary morality is not a race.

I AM saying that’s the character, he’s completely amoral, and that’s who he is. Very quickly in the series, author Donald Westlake softens the character up, but if that entails knocking off the accidental murder of innocent hairdressers and getting him a steady girlfriend later on, well- you’re really overreaching when you claim he’s Robin Hood.

The only reason – the ONLY reason – Parker isn’t killing you right now, is that it’s a pain in the ass and there is no compelling reason to do it. He doesn’t care who you are or what you did or whether or not you’re nice.

Here’s another modern incarnation of Parker:

Payback

In Payback, Parker’s name was Porter, and they softened him up in hilarious ways, like they made him goof around with a big, silly puppy dog and made him a former driver for a Super Hot Prostitute named Rosie, whom he was apparently in love with, because that makes sense, driving a prostitute from John to John and thinking, if only me and her could skip through the park together eating ice cream.

That movie was based on The Hunter, the first of the Parker novels, and so yes, that’s the one where he killed the hairdresser. Did you see Porter kill any hair dressers? Me neither, and Parker is to be clear, MUCH larger than Mel Gibson.

Rosie, who is Mel’s love interest in the movie and runs off with him at the end, is in the book for approximately seven pages, as a chubby, drug-addled prostitute who Parker knocks around a little bit until he gets some information out of her. I think she tells him she hates him when he stomps away with the name he needed, and we never see her again in twenty-three novels.

I actually like Payback. They kept it pretty dark, and it’s all retro-technology, since the original book was written in 1962, and this was before Mel Gibson parked a fertilizer truck in front of the Crazy Town Courthouse and started threatening the Queen and getting his Anti-Semite Groove going. Before that, he was very mainstream and the ladies dug him. Going dark was playing against type, and it worked for him.

It was as close to actual Parker as I think we’re likely to get on screen, but again – that’s okay. The books were practically designed to be read with a six pack of beer. They’re short, and they’re lean, and they come in two categories.

Either Parker is planning a job, and at the end they’ll execute it and we’ll see how it goes, or we join him in mid-job, and something goes horribly wrong, and we’ll watch him get clear.

The Usual SuspectsThat’s it. We’re just sociopathic criminals for a few hours, without hurting anybody and without going to jail. We don’t have to watch him fall in love with a beautiful and brilliant safecracker, or a beautiful and brilliant stunt driver, or a brilliant and beautiful police detective or anything like that. There’s no mute kid who says something at the end, making it really meaningful and softening the grizzled heister’s cold heart.

No. You’re going to pull off a heist, and you get to leave your conscience at home, and if you don’t like it you get out of the car.

So here’s why we’re going to hang out with Parker this weekend. Of the twenty-three Parker novels, I’ve read twenty-two of them, missing the tenth simple due to being unable to find it. There are more coming out, from what I hear, but Donald Westlake is dead. The last Parker novel, Ask The Parrot, was very clearly the result of a stooge being handed the beginning of a first draft which Westlake left behind, and being told to write a Parker novel out of it. I guess it isn’t terrible, but I know when Westlake’s writing and when he’s not. That wasn’t him.

In fact, it was him, for the first sixty pages. Then suddenly all the characters decide, let’s think of a whole new plan, these last sixty pages aren’t doing it for me, then Parker does something else, acting nothing like Parker at all.

Parker why do you suddenly sound like a thirty year-old English major with a second glass of whiskey in your hand? Sigh.

So anyway, the one Parker novel I haven’t read is The Green Eagle Score. It comes right after The Rare Coin Score, in which Parker meets Claire and she becomes the greatest criminal girlfriend ever, asking zero questions about what Parker does, putting zero requirements on when he should and shouldn’t be away, and being able to use her brain if the shit hits the fan and the cops show up. You know what Claire knows, officer?

Nothing. Beat it.

Green Eagle ScoreSuddenly, back in my world, it was 2013, and I realized that instead of combing local used bookstores for the remaining Parker novel, I could use Amazon Technology and have it in my hands overnight. Fair enough – that’s what I’ve done. Now I’m off to sit on my ass, drink a few beers, and read it. There’s a good chance you’ll get to hear all about it tomorrow, because what else am I going to write about if that’s all I’ve been doing all day?

And if you are wondering about Heinlein’s The Number of the Beast, I’m still going to finish it, but Parker doesn’t like to wait in line, so he gets to go first. You can take it up with Parker if you don’t like it.

That’s the best thing about Parker novels – you don’t have to wait for stuff to happen. Westlake – who writes the novels as Richard Stark – drops you right into the shit from the very first sentence. In fact, my favorite opening line ever is from Firebreak, a 2001 Parker novel:

“When the phone rang, Parker was in the garage, killing a man.”

I’ll tell you the first line to this one tomorrow, once I’ve finished it. Until then, blogosphere.

 

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Dan Brown Is Your Problem Now

Hello, blogosphere. Can you guys do me a favor?

I’ve been asked by the collective Art History community to deliver a message to the English Departments of the world, and I was going to encode it and hide it throughout all the great works of literature in history, just because that seems like a natural way to efficiently tell the world stuff. Secret codes hidden in books. There’s no better ad space on Earth – humanity is crazy about them!

Cosmic ChickenAnyway, the Art History community appeared before me in a dream as a giant, anthropomorphic Spirit Chicken, and it looked like it had been drinking. It was ranting about students showing up in Art History class insisting that everything in The Da Vinci Code is Art History. Or worse, showing up and looking at The Last Supper and pretending to spot the bullshit from The Da Vinci Code themselves!

“Wait a second – that’s a girl!” One of them will announce – cracking the Code with a single glance. See, Tom wouldn’t last long as an Art History teacher, and not just because he doesn’t know shit about it.

But the Cosmic Art History Spirit Chicken does, and here’s how much of a load of crap The Da Vinci Code is. Do you know what Leonardo’s last name was? Well, no, it wasn’t Da Vinci. He’s Leonardo From Vinci, or Leonado of Vinci. They didn’t have surnames back then. So even if it was his Code, that would make it the Leonardo Code. Not the From Vinci Code.

And if an error of such basic information is right there in the title, then what can we surmise about how much this person knows about the topic?

Now Dan Brown has a book out called Inferno and it’s about Dante’s Inferno. I assume there is some kind of Code in it, since they call in world-renowned symbologist Robert Langdon to figure it out, with the help of – and I’m just guessing here – a brilliant and beautiful Literary Scholar Chickaroo.

Apparently, according to the Cosmic Art History Chicken, this is a burr up the ass of every Art History scholar in the world, right up there with people who watch the History channel, and then think they just studied history, and also right up there with people who think you can really be a world-renowned symbologist, or even a symbologist. That’s about like saying you’re a cryptozoologist.

I mean – of course you can be whatever you want to be, Billy! You just gotta believe! Except no, they’re not really scholars, just chicks-n-dudes with hilarious business cards.

NelsonSo like I’m saying, they wanted me to send a message to the entire Literary community – I mean, hell, is that what they’re even called? Is the C.A.H.C talking to every single English teacher, Literature Professor, and Librarian in the world?

Better err on the side of safety I guess. Just go ahead and tell everyone you know who teaches literature in any way, that Dan Brown Is Your Problem Now, and that Tom Chalfant Says The Cosmic Art History Chicken thinks it’s funny.

HA!

There. Now, Go, Cosmic Art History Chicken – and trouble my people no more.

 
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Posted by on May 22, 2013 in Writing/blogging

 

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Deliver Us From Historical Reality

I’m certainly not going to sit around staunchly defending the dread N-word.  Or even the word “Injun,” which oddly, you are allowed to say without a childish code name.

But sure, I’ll spend 800 words or so roundly ridiculing Alan Gribben, a Mark Twain scholar who according to this article right here, has spearheaded an effort to produce a new version of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, scrubbed clean of both of those horrifying words. 

“Race matters in these books,” Gribben told Publisher’s Weekly. “It’s a matter of how you express that in the 21st century.”

Now, since I’ve seen the Mark Twain Star Trek episode nearly ten times, I’m something of a Mark Twain scholar myself, so I’m happy to help out one of my confused peers.

You see, I don’t think teaching or studying Huck Finn is a matter of how you express it in the 21st century.  I think that Mark Twain was expressing it, in the 19th century, and that’s what you’re teaching or studying. 

Sure, I’ll bet there’s a market for a sanitized version of the classic – closed-minded morons.  By all means, it’s America, knock yourself out.  You could offer other moron-friendly features, like rounded corners so nobody hurts themselves with it, and a big sticker on the cover which reads “Do Not Eat!”

Hooray for you, Gribben.  It feels like you’re trying to bait me into a First Amendment debate, but nobody’s trying to suppress the original, so there’s no debate to have.  You’re just a producing a new, edited version, like any network airing Beverly Hills Cop, complete with Eddie Murphy going, “Shooooooot.”

In fact, the article makes a big hilarious joke out of this very concept – editing a classic.

Of course, the author uses an actual classic, suggesting that changing out the N-Word in Huck Finn is nothing crazier than airing an edited version of The Godfather.  Then it makes a joke about down and dirty melon farmers – an example of how profanity in the original is changed to something  innocuous and silly in the edited version.

Oddly, that’s supposed to be the author’s way of pointing out that it’s perfectly cool and funny to screw around with classic works of art.  Seems like the opposite to me – what a distracting and asinine way to sanitize the dialogue of an iconic literary mobster.

After illustrating how absurd such sanitizing swap-outs can become, the author then strangely concludes, “The original product is changed for the benefit of those who, for one reason or another, are not mature enough to handle it, but as long as it doesn’t affect the original, is there a problem?”

Seems to me, if your students are not mature enough to handle it, then you don’t assign it, right?  I don’t like murder, either, but I’m not going to turn Shakespeare’s assassination scene from Julius Caeser into a pillow fight.  Because that would be jarringly stupid, and also a distinctly different story.

That’s the second part that bothers me.  “As long as it doesn’t affect the original.”

You’re telling me that swapping out possibly the most historically relevant word in the book with the word “slave” – which doesn’t even mean the same thing – would not affect the book?

I don’t want to have a big debate about theme and the use of race and all that.  This guy’s a Twain scholar, and I’m sure he’d love to debate that sort of stuff all night long.  I just don’t think any of that’s relevant – Twain wrote the book.  The best way to be sure that his novel is intact thematically is to leave every word exactly where it is.

Because you might be a Twain scholar, Gribben, but you’re not Mark Twain.  Those who can’t do, teach, as they say – and you didn’t write this book.  Mark Twain did.  So kindly get the hell out of his way.

Huck Finn was genuinely Jim’s friend, you know.  That, coupled with his overtly racist language is a paradox and my guess is, it was on purpose.  Huck Finn didn’t go to college in the 90’s, he was a hillbilly from the 19th Century South.  Huck Finn doesn’t watch his mouth, and he’s ignorant of the destructive nature of the language he uses.  You change those two things, and you changed the character.

It’s noble, I guess, that you want to put the books “into the hands of kids who would not otherwise be allowed to read it due to forces beyond their control (overprotective parents and the school boards they frighten)”

Except overprotective parents shouldn’t run the show, and those kids have long lives ahead of them.  They can grow up and move away from their overprotective parents and then read the book, without the PC rewrite.  I mean by that argument, we ought to get busy on every single classic out there, scrub ’em up.

You knock yourself out, sure.  You can make a pop-up version in which all the characters are bunnies, if you want, and I doubt anyone can stop you.  Certainly I’m not ready to take to the streets with a “Bring Back The N-Word” sign – have at it.

I guess I’ll just have to be content  with announcing for the record that this is one of the stupidest things I’ve ever heard.  I am so pleased to have enough faith in my children that I can allow them to read great works of literature without running it by a censor. 

The only problem is, it’s dangerous, trying to sanitize the past in the name of protecting us all from historical and literary reality.  The sooner we all forget the past, the sooner we can all get on with repeating it.  I don’t think sitting around watching Gribben whitewash this particular fence is the right thing to do.

 
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Posted by on January 5, 2011 in News/Commentary

 

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Alyssa Milano Can Tweet My Link Anytime

Now, listen, I mean that literally, so if your mind’s in the gutter and you think that’s a sexual euphenism or something, well then your problems are your own.

Of course, I understand you might think that the only reason I’m bringing up Alyssa Milano is that she’s a beautfiul, brilliant, philanthropic goddess, gliding among the rest of us like an Elfin Princess from Lord of the Rings.  And sure, that’s part of it. 

There’s also the fact that I feel like I actually know her, since I used to eat Doritos upside down on my couch watching her on Who’s The Boss when I was a kid Back then I calculated that she and I would probably be happily married by now.  But that’s life – things seldom work out the way you plan.

No, the reason I’m talking about Alyssa Milano is that I just read this article about Twitter by Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler, in which the power of tweeting is analyzed by having three different people do it once each.

Apparently, Alyssa Milano is quite renowned for her tweeting, so I looked her up and followed her, and it’s true.  She has an unprecented sixteen kazillion followers, and the article describes how despite all this, when she tweeted the link to their book’s Amazon page, nothing happened in terms of additional sales.

Seriously, they weren’t trying to be mean or anything.  It’s just that their book is called Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives, and it’s about exactly what it says it’s about.  And Alyssa Milano must have liked the book – which is good enough for me, by the way – so she tweeted the link.

Since Alyssa Milano has more followers than there are people on Earth (not really), it would seem intuitive that there would be a spike in their book sales that day.  But instead, there was no effect, except a slight downward turn of one or two copies. 

Did they compensate mathematically for other factors besides Alyssa Milano’s online activities?  I don’t know – I would certainly hope so. 

Now, nobody was suggesting that Alyssa Milano did any harm, it’s just more of a comment on what kind of effect a tweet has on the behavior of the people to whom it’s tweeted, and the answer appears to be – if this one tweet out of several million trillion is any indication – not much.

To be fair, they then had a few other Twitterers tweet the same link, including Fox News, which has maybe five thousand followers (old people don’t do the Twitter, you know), and when Fox News tweeted the link, they sold an extra five books. 

Are they suggesting that Fox News is somehow cooler and more important than Alyssa Milano?  I don’t think so – and if they are, they need chained up to radiators like savage werewolves, because they’re out of their motherscratching minds.

Destroy Fox News with a series of missile strikes or even mildly inconvenience Alyssa Milano on a Tuesday night, well, I don’t have to tell you which way I’d be leaning, if those were the only two choices in front of me.

Clearly, these guys were not suggesting that Twitter is worthless in terms of marketing – that would contradict the book they wrote.  And it is true that when you don’t know anything about Twitter, you kind of assume that tweeting something to eighty-five billion people would probably be a big deal, so maybe they’re trying to clear up a common misconception. 

But you know, taking three people and having them tweet a single link once each really doesn’t seem like a sufficient amount of information from which to draw any kind of meaningful conclusion.  Sure, I know, I’m not a professor and I don’t write for CNN – it’s probably just me not grasping something. 

To my untrained eye, it seems akin to getting in a canoe, sticking an oar in the water, rowing once, then asking two other people to do the same thing, and then concluding, man, that’s weird.  Rowing boats doesn’t have any effect on whether or not they move.

It does, you know.  Of course, not if you’re just going to do it once.

I mean, they make excellent points about how the type of followers matter more than the number of followers, in terms of getting people to actually react to your tweet (i.e., buy a book).  And there is no question that if you poured a liter of whiskey into each of these guys and then had them talk using only hilarious sock puppets and Kermit the Frog voices, they’d still be a lot smarter than me.

But fellas, I think you are missing the point:  Alyssa Milano thought of you.

You crossed her mind.  You occurred to her.  And sure, you guys are smart, but you’re probably a couple of dorks, just like me.  Showing up on Alyssa Milano’s radar at all ought to be enough.  Stop analyzing it and start fainting – this is really happening.

I mean, sure, Ashton Kutcher has way more followers than she does, but he’s a dude, and he wasn’t in Commando, so who cares?

I’ve been smiling dreamily at Alyssa Milano on my television screen all the way from Who’s The Boss to Charmed – I have three daughters, God bless my little Excuses To Watch Charmed – and then on into My Name is Earl.  So if she wants to tweet the link to my book’s Amazon page, well the last thing I’m going to do is check the sales board. 

The first thing I would do is become just about impossible to live with.  Good luck getting me to shut up about it.

And you can be certain that she’d get a thank you out of me, instead of a grade.

.

Update:  Boggling my mind, one of my overseas readers showed up not knowing who Alyssa Milano is, so here’s a picture of her:

 

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